The Beijing city government has issued an order to close down all private clubs and high-end entertainment venues set up at the city's spacious public parks, amid efforts to curb officials’ lavish lifestyles and crack the whip on corruption.
It is an open secret that many high-end restaurants and clubs, taking advantage of the scenic views and wide spaces, have been operating at these parks -- even in protected zones for cultural relics.
With luxurious interior decor and guaranteed privacy, these establishments have attracted a sizeable clientele of government officials -- although their tab is often covered by businessmen friends.
“In the past years, some dining enterprises in Beijing have been [looking to provide] high-end luxury and privacy, and they developed into private clubs," Zhao Yuqi, a senior official with Beijing’s discipline inspection commission said at a press conference on Wednesday, according to China News Agency.
"Some of those high-end restaurants are located in cultural-relics protection areas or public parks, which trigger strong dissatisfaction among the public.
“We need to take effective measures to curb this bad trend immediately,” Zhao said.
Local media reports say that costs per person at such park-view restaurants range from 988 yuan (HK$1,260) to 1,680 yuan. To protect their clients' identities, some restaurants would even help cover up their cars' licence plates.
Zhang Yahong, a director at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry, said at Wednesday’s press conference that 24 restaurants and clubs were discovered in Beijing parks during an initial investigation.
One of them is the Imperial Court Club, located in a 270-year-old building at Beihai Park, one of the best-preserved imperial gardens in the capital. The club was operated by a high-end restaurant chain called Yi Shi Liu.
The club and another restaurant at Beihai Park have been ordered to suspend operations.
Rui Chenggang, a presenter on state broadcaster China Central Television, disclosed in 2011 that a hall within the Forbidden City had been converted into a private club with just 500 members.
A membership for the club costs 1 million yuan per year. After public pressure, the club was later suspended.
Amid a campaign launched by President Xi Jinping to curb corruption and strengthen the party’s discipline, officials have been banned from entering private clubs.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development already issued an order last May forbidding exclusive clubs, restaurants and tea houses from being established in public parks.
But the order had not been properly implemented until the municipal government's latest crackdown.
Zhang, from the landscape department, said restaurants at other Beijing parks had lowered their charges significantly, cancelled private-room services and started to offer medium-priced dishes to tourists and residents.
However, two other restaurants run by Yi Shi Liu, in Ditan Park and Honglingjin Park, were still open for business on Wednesday, the Post confirmed by telephone. Officials with the park management and the Landscape and Forestry Bureau did not provide any explanation.